With them were hundreds more, suspended between grief and fading hope, "between the living and the dead", the families of 150 others whose bodies almost certainly lie beneath the rubble. Together with 11,000 others at an emotional prayer service led by evangelist Billy Graham, they heard the guest of honour, President Bill Clinton, tell them: "Those who were lost now belong to God. Some day we will be with them."
Shortly before the service, the FBI announced the arrest in California of a second man, described as army deserter David Iniguez, suspected of involvement in the bombing.
Just over 100 hours after the nation's worst-ever terrorist bomb destroyed the federal administration building here, "in the heart of the heartland", Dr Graham, 77, told the relatives: "Some day the wounds will heal. Let the healing begin." Perhaps the first indication of this was the cheering and applause that greeted the arrival of the representatives of the rescue services in the auditorium.
But with their colleagues continuing to tear at the rubble as the memorial service went on, praying for survivors but expecting to find bodies or just body parts, the healing may be a long time coming. "Why Oklahoma, why?" asked Baptist minister Rod Masteller, opening the service at 3pm as churchbells rang out around the nation. "There seem to be no answers now." He broke into tears as he said: " Lord, would you allow us to find some that are still alive."
That was asking for a miracle 102 hours after the vehicle bomb attack authorities believe was carried out by right-wing extremists thought to have been partly responding to the fiery drama of exactly two years earlier in Waco, Texas. But the rescuers kept on digging yesterday, saying they were getting closer to the remnants of a nursery in which at least 13 and up to 30 babies and infants died.
Also attending was Ibraham Ahmad, the Jordanian-American held at Heathrow after leaving Oklahoma City, sent back to the US in handcuffs but later released with apologies. He said he wanted to share the feelings of Oklahomans yesterday as he too knew what it was like to lose a child.
Tears flowed openly around the State Fair Arena - more usually used for rodeos - as singer Kurt Johnson sang "Tears in Heaven", the song Eric Clapton wrote after the accidental death of his young son. Mrs Eydie Smith, 23, wept as she clutched pictures of her sons Chase, 3, and Colton, 2. She had found out only the previous evening that her boys had been identified among the dead.
Despite initial reports suggesting the man arrested yesterday was the suspect labelled "John Doe number 2", the FBI said the manhunt for that suspect and other possible "co-conspirators" was continuing. "John Doe 2" is suspected, along with arrested suspect Timothy McVeigh ("John Doe 1"), of renting the van that was used in the attack.
Extending their investigations to Montana, Michigan and Arizona, the FBI sought to establish links between the suspects and well-armed white supremacist militias. FBI agents said "John Doe 2", Mr McVeigh, and possibly two other people may have been part of a network who communicated their violent anti-government views via computer Internet systems.
The FBI agents said their reference to further suspects did not include the brothers James and Terry Nichols, still detained as "material witnesses" in connection with the bombing.Reuse content